Drug-Free Block Plan

Article excerpt

Open-air drug markets remain a persistent and frustrating problem for many police departments. These drug markets allow dealers to sell their wares quickly to both drive-up and walk-up customers. They are frequently found in residential districts, with both the dealers and buyers coming in from other areas to conduct their business.

Once-vital neighborhoods quickly become crumbling slums when this type of drug activity moves into the area. Overt, street corner drug dealing results in acts of violence, neighborhood decay, mistrust of governmental authorities, and citizen fear.

As a result, law-abiding citizens who live near open-air drug markets frequently develop a "bunker mentality." They stay inside their homes as much as possible, lose contact with their neighbors, and purposely isolate themselves from the illegal activities taking place outside.

Unfortunately, police departments nationwide have found it difficult--if not impossible--to eliminate open-air drug markets. Although "buy-busts," long-term undercover operations, surveillance, and even reverse drug sales have resulted in thousands of felony arrests, the problem continues. Drug dealers arrested by police are frequently back on the street or replaced by another "entrepreneur" before officers complete the arrest paperwork.

While citizens believe that the answer to this problem is increased neighborhood police patrols, law enforcement leaders recognize that this measure does little to solve the problem. Instead, it merely results in the displacement of dealers to other neighborhoods. Meanwhile, increased police patrols in one sector leave other areas with reduced services, making these areas even more vulnerable to new problems. Clearly, this issue requires a different approach.

A Different Approach

When the number of open-air drug markets began to increase within its jurisdiction, the Richmond, Virginia, Police Department created an innovative program to combat the problem. Recognizing that closing open-air drug markets required a joint police-community effort, police administrators developed a Drug-Free Block Plan. This plan allows citizens--working closely with police--to take back their neighborhoods from drug dealers.

The Drug-Free Block Plan has three specific goals. The first is to involve both citizens and police in combating neighborhood drug problems on a block-by-block basis. The partnership between police and citizens strengthens the effort to rid the block of not only illegal drug activity but also the environmental factors that contribute to it.

The second goal of the program is to foster a police-community partnership that is positive, action-oriented, and achievable. The alliance that forms serves to better the community as a whole. Administrators sustain this bond between the community and the police through a rapid response to community requests. Failing to deliver promised services dooms the program.

The third goal is to use the program as a catalyst for the active involvement of all city agencies and services to enhance the quality of life within the affected neighborhoods. At monthly meetings, citizens in the community bring specific concerns they may have to the attention of police. Police officials then request that personnel from city agencies that can resolve these concerns attend the next monthly meeting.

The police, however, do not organize a drug-free block; the citizens who live on the block do. The police help by informing citizens of the Drug-Free Block Plan's existence and by providing interested citizens with the organizational strategy.

Partnership Agreement

The Drug-Free Block Plan requires a true community and police partnership. Both community members and the department make certain commitments, take certain risks, and share in the ultimate success or failure of the program.

As part of the partnership, citizens voluntarily commit to lead individual drug-free lives, to forbid the use or possession of illegal drugs in their homes, and to work together to enhance the problem-solving relationship between the department and the neighborhood. …